A last, desperate plea for Iowa legislators to not retain 3rd graders


Dear Iowa legislators,

I am pleading with you to not pass an education reform law that includes retention of 3rd graders.

4+ decades of unanimous peer-reviewed research studies show that retention of elementary students results in short-term academic gains that disappear completely in later school years. What you get for that now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t test score bump is incredible damage to students’ self-concept, substantial increases in students’ dropout rates, and significant reductions in students’ future life success.

If you read them, the handful of recent non-peer-reviewed research studies that are being cited in favor of this proposed legislation actually reinforce – rather than rebut – all existing studies: short term test score gains that wash out in later years, accompanied by no mitigation of long-term, negative dropout rate or life success impacts.

Please realize that it doesn’t matter how many safeguards are put into place before retention occurs. The issue is the retention itself, not the procedures that lead up to it.

The proposed interventions in early grades for struggling readers are desirable and necessary. But, plain and simple, retention hurts kids. It has no proven long-term benefit and many long-term harmful consequences. If you want to ensure that students don’t leave elementary school illiterate, hire a personal tutor for academically-struggling 4th graders. It would be cheaper than paying for their repeated 3rd grade year.

Third grade retention is not a policy unknown. It’s an issue for which we have decades and decades of research and data. Please make the educationally sound decision. Please make the morally right decision.

I am hopeful that you will not sacrifice the future of Iowa students and citizens on the twin altars of short-term test score gains and political talking points. Please contact me at any time at 707-722-7853 or I am happy to talk with you about this important issue.

Thank you.

Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D.
An Ames resident (and education professor)

Image credit: Bellevue Elementary School

5 Responses to “A last, desperate plea for Iowa legislators to not retain 3rd graders”

  1. Scott,

    What a beautifully written letter. Lets hope the Senate’s version that has pulled out 3rd grade retention, wins the day.


  2. Thank you for the kind words, Trace, but the Iowa Senate bill currently INCLUDES the 3rd grade retention provision: http://t.co/MP5K35EQ

  3. Scott and Trace,
    Thank you for your continued advocacy for this important issue.

  4. Scott, I just want to say thank you for your efforts. Your argument is solid, as is the research you have repeatedly cited. I really hope enough legislators can get past politics and cheap political, short-term victories and use research and evidence to make solid policy decisions. Well done.

  5. What drives me nuts, Scott, is that crappy #edpolicy decisions ALWAYS built around talking points and election cycles.

    That’s why I’m so flippin’ pessimistic about ever seeing real change in schools.

    Because important decisions are made by people who are just trying to say whatever they need to say in order to get elected, poor choices built on feel-good misconceptions are the norm instead of the exception to the #edreform rule.

    Outside of just continuing to raise our voices and influence the people that we can reach personally, is there anything else that we can do to change that all-too-frustrating organizational truth?


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